Oil Spill Update: Underwater Video of Leak; Turning Oil Into Asphalt; Obama Proposes Oil Company Tax Hike; Wildlife Deaths

Here’s a roundup of the latest oil spill news, from President Obama’s proposal for federal funds to enhance the response to the US Army’s plan to turn oil into asphalt to the latest information on wildlife affected by the slick.

Video of Oil Leak
Oil and gas stream from the riser of the Deepwater Horizon well May 11, 2010. This video is from the larger of two existing leaks on the riser. This leak is located approximately 460 feet from the top of the blowout preventer and rests on the sea floor at a depth of about 5,000 feet. (Courtesy BP)

Obama Sends Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Legislative Package To Congress
Yesterday President Obama sent Congress a legislative package aimed to speed the response and aid to people affected by the spill, as well as “strengthen and update the oil spill liability system to better address catastrophic events,” according to a press release. "No one in the administration will rest or be satisfied until the leak is stopped at the source and oil in the Gulf is contained and cleaned up and people in this region are able to get back to their lives and livelihood," Carol Browner, assistant to the president for Energy and Climate Change, said on a conference call yesterday.

The legislation would:

  • -Increase the amount that could be spent from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund—an emergency cleanup fund the industry pays into—from $1 billion to $1.5 billion.
  • -Raise the cap on natural resource damage assessments and claims from $500 million to $750 million.
  • -Increase the tax that oil companies pay to finance theTrust Fund from 8 cents per barrel to 9 cents per barrel starting this year.
  • -Give $2 million to the EPA, and $5 million to NOAA for various environmental studies that improve the federal response to the spill.
  • -Give $2 million to the FDA to monitor seafood safety in the Gulf.
  • -Give $29 million to the Interior Secretary to study the safety of offshore drilling

The crew of a Basler BT-67 fixed wing aircraft release dispersant over an oil slick off the Louisiana shore on May 5. Photo: USCG

The Low-Down on Chemical Dispersants
There’s been a lot of concern about the short- and long-term effects of dispersants on wildlife and the environment. Daniel Cressey at Nature takes an in-depth look at what’s known about these chemicals, and how they’re being used.

From Nature:

Overall, however, there is still a dearth of knowledge about the impact of dispersants, especially if used in the volumes now being applied in the Gulf.

"The long-term effects are really unknown," says Carys Mitchelmore, an environmental chemist at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Solomons and a co-author on a 2005 US National Academies report on dispersants. "The dispersant has inherent toxicity. And these oil droplets tend to be the same sort of size as food particles for filter-feeding organisms."

Army Turns Oil Into Asphalt
The half-dozen golf-ball size tarballs that washed ashore on the beaches of Alabama’s Dauphin last weekend are believed to be from the Deepwater Horizon spill. In response, the US Army is trying an untested strategy to block the slick from reaching the island.

From Treehugger:

[The Army] plans on trapping the oil in Hesco baskets and then applying a chemical called CI Agent, turning the oil into a gelatinous solid. That solid, comprised from oil from the gulf spill, will then be collected and turned into asphalt.

Photo: USFWS
Dead Bottlenose Dolphins Wash Ashore

NOAA is currently aware of 6 dead bottlenose dolphins that have washed ashore on the Gulf Coast. No external signs of oil on the dolphins were observed, and it is not known if these deaths are related to the oil spill. Bottlenose dolphins are the most common type of marine mammal to strand. NOAA will perform necropsies to investigate further. [From Deepwater Horizon Response Facebook page]

NOAA scientists are conducting bottlenose dolphin studies in Mississippi and Louisiana. “The samples will be used to evaluate baseline levels of exposure to oil and other environmental contaminants,” according to a press release.

In addition to the six dolphins, 87 sea turtle deaths might be related to the spill.  So far 25 oiled birds have been found in Louisiana; 7 have survived.

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